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Savannah’s lithium extraction conflict in Covas do Barroso, Portugal

Covas do Barroso, a small rural village in northern Portugal, is the site of a fierce resistance against the projected lithium exploration in the area.


The conflict of Covas do Barroso can be seen as a conflict related with the “Green Transition” plans developed by the European Commission to face the climate crisis [1]. For the EC, this transition would mainly imply replacing energy sources based on fossil fuels, like oil and coal, to those based on renewable energies, like wind, solar, or hydro. As well as a shift from conventional transportation technologies to the electrification of mobility (electric cars). One of the most important components for battery production, a key element of this technological shift, is lithium. Lithium is a very light metal that is used for the stabilization and rechargeability of batteries [2]. Thus, lithium has presently become one of the most valuable and sought-after commodities in the world market, with future demand surely continuing to increase.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Savannah’s lithium extraction conflict in Covas do Barroso, Portugal
State or province:Vila Real
Location of conflict:Parishes of Covas do Barroso and Couto de Dornelas (Boticas Municipality)
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Mineral ore exploration
Specific commodities:Lithium
Project Details and Actors
Project details

593 hectares

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Project area:593
Level of Investment for the conflictive project500,000,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:200-1,000,000
Start of the conflict:01/12/2018
Company names or state enterprises:Savannah Resources Plc from United Kingdom - Want to start mining exploration for extract lithium.
Relevant government actors:Duarte Cordeiro (Minister of Environment)
João Pedro Matos Fernandes (Ex-Minister of Environment)
João Galamba (Secretary of State for Energy)
DGEG – Direção Geral de Energia e Geologia
APA (Agência Portuguesa do Ambiente)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Associação Unidos em Defesa de Covas do Barroso (
Associação Ambiental e Cultural Celtiberus (AACC)
Associação Ambiental Unidos pela Natureza
Boticas Municipality
Covas do Barroso Parish
Montalegre Com Vida
Movimento Não às Minas – Montalegre
PNB – Povo e Natureza do Barroso
Partido Ecologista Os Verdes – PEV
Fundação Montescola
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Noise pollution, Soil erosion, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Mine tailing spills
Health ImpactsVisible: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Potential: Occupational disease and accidents, Accidents
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Other socio-economic impacts, Displacement, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Specific impacts on women, Land dispossession
Project StatusPlanned (decision to go ahead eg EIA undertaken, etc)
Conflict outcome / response:Institutional changes
Strengthening of participation
Project temporarily suspended
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:The movement was successful in terms of raising awareness at a national level of what was occurring in Covas do Barroso. They managed to generate a public debate on whether the mine should be built or not, which increased pressure on the government to act. Also, in a decision taken by an overwhelming majority at the commoners’ assembly, Savannah was prohibited access to the baldios (common lands), which was an important step forward since a big part of the concession is located within these lands. Furthermore, the local parish has also prohibited Savannah from entering their lands, which are public property. Finally, the opponents to the project have managed the Barroso region to be the first (and only) FAO recognized Globally Important Agriculture Heritage System (GIAHS) in Portugal.

The project is still pending on the final decision by the evaluation committee and the government. Depending on the decision we will know how successful the resistance movement was.
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

[19] Avaliação de Impacte Ambiental - Ampliação da Mina do Barroso. Agência Portuguesa do Ambiente (APA). 2021
[click to view]

[24] Alternative EIA produced by UDCB.
[click to view]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[6] Carvalho, J. M., & Farinha, J. A. L. B. (2004, March). Lithium potentialities in Northern Portugal. In 17th Industrial Minerals International Congress, Barcelona, Spain (pp. 1-10).
[click to view]

Sim à Vida, Não à Mina: A luta das populações contra a exploração do lítio.
[click to view]

Dunlap, A. & M. Riquito. 2023. Social warfare for lithium extraction? Open-pit lithium mining, counterinsurgency tactics and enforcing green extractivism in northern Portugal. Energy and Social Research. vo. 95.
[click to view]

[2] Why is lithium so important to the transition to a carbon-free world? Pablo Altimiras. 2021
[click to view]

[3] EU wants lithium self-sufficiency by 2025. Marian Willuhn. 2020
[click to view]

[5] Barroso, plantando cara al mayor proyecto minero de litio en Europa. Rebelión. Martintxo Mantxo
[click to view]

[7] En Covas de Barroso, planean la mina de litio más grande en Europa. Francisco Norega. 2021.
[click to view]

[8] Governo quer trazer gigantes do lítio a tempo das eleições . Luisa Pinto. 2019
[click to view]

[9] “Portugal tem de garantir um lugar na frente na estratégia da Europa para o lítio”. Luisa Pinto. 2018.
[click to view]

[11] Explorações de lítio obrigadas a avaliação ambiental todos os anos. Luisa Pinto. 2019.
[click to view]

[12] Against the disinformation campaign about the lithium mine in Barroso. Francisco Norega. 2021.
[click to view]

[13] Empresa diz que mina de lítio em Boticas é um investimento de 500 milhões. Lusa. 2019.
[click to view]

[16] População de Covas do Barroso quer travar mina de lítio a céu aberto. Lusa. 2019.
[click to view]

[17] Protesto contra as minas no Barroso com tratores, caminhadas e "acampada". Lusa. 2021
[click to view]

[20] Barroso presents annual report 2020. FAO. 2020
[click to view]

No Barroso, lítio é sinónimo de “angústia e revolta”. Público. Ana Marques Maia.
[click to view]

Catarina Alves: “Hay un lobbie dentro del gobierno portugués que quiere instalar la mayor mina de litio europea”. El Salto. Carlos Soledad.
[click to view]

How a rising anti-mining movement is challenging Portugal’s ‘white gold’ rush. Waging Non-Violence. Marina Martinez.
[click to view]

Mina de lítio: Quem se ‘lixa’ no Barroso não é só o mexilhão. Expresso. Carla Tomás.
[click to view]

O negócio do lítio: crimes ambientais e negociatas de milhões. Notícias Online. António Garcia Pereira.
[click to view]

Unidos Em Defesa de Covas do Barroso.
[click to view]

A Portuguese village pays the high price of low-carbon energy. Euronews. Bryan Carter.
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[15] Mina do Barroso ilustra paradoxos do Pacto Ecológico Europeu. Elza Gonçalves. 2021.
[click to view]

Não às minas! Acampamento em defesa do Barroso. PÓLEN
[click to view]

V. Waldersee and C. Demony, 14 Febr. 2020, Finanzas Yahoo
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Lourenço Melo | Political Ecology Master's at ICTA-UAB | [email protected] (reviewed by Mariana W. & Francisco V.)
Last update18/03/2023
Conflict ID:5908
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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